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LANGUAGES MATTER! A UNESCO poster competition
















Judging Feedback


Poster design is an expression of creativity and technical prowess. Felissimo, in collaboration with UNESCO launched this international poster competition through the DESIGN 21: Social Design Network on the occasion of the 2009 edition of International Mother Language Day (21 February). This initiative seeks to raise awareness among designers and to incite them to spread the word about the crucial role of languages as resource and heritage to be safeguarded, as well as linguistic diversity which reflects human diversity.

We are delighted to have received over 1,100 entries from 85 countries All of these submissions – be they humorous, serious, figurative or abstract – transmit an important message and reflect the diversity and unity that characterizes culture and human existence.

DESIGN 21 and UNESCO thank all of you who entered and are pleased to announce the winners.


Mother language must live by Anna Notara Koutroumpaki from Greece is the Overall Winner and will receive $3,000.

In picking this entry as their winner, UNESCO said, “Language is the most significant feature of human being” said the famous African writer Hampâté Ba. The public will recognize in this poster the author's intention to put at the same level the different peoples and thus the variety of their languages. This poster is readable by all world cultures. It is more “universal” than the others as images are predominant on letters and the variety of human features is best represented. It is colorful, nice as a whole and in its details."

Anna had this to say about being awarded the prize of Overall Winner, "Firstly I would like to thank UNESCO and DESIGN 21 for giving me the opportunity to expose my work. Tradition and customs, color history and sounds come to create the image of every country. If I were to transform the image into words I would say this: The mother language of each country is the medium of passing on the civilization of each country. My target was to create something understandable by all, respective of age, sex, race and nationality. Mother languages consist of the colors of every country and must survive because when there is a living tradition there is also a future."

Judges for UNESCO included Daniel Prado (Argentina), Director, Terminology and Language Industries and Adama Samassékou (Mali) Secretary General, African Academy of Languages.


Judging for DESIGN 21 were advisory board members: Omar Vulpinari (Republic of San Marino) Creative Director of the Visual Communication Department at Fabrica, and Vice President of ICOGRADA; and Jacques Lange (South Africa), Partner and creative director of Bluprint Design, Design Editor of DESIGN> magazine, and Past President of ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations)

Mother and Tongues by Vito Bica from Germany was selected by Omar Vulpinari and wins $1,000.

"This poster starts from the key assumption that all tongues (languages) come from one mouth, that of “mother humanity”. So, as in any family where all different sons and daughters are equally important and loved, also in the “family of humanity” all languages must be considered equally important, cared about, protected and celebrated. The colorful and metaphorical illustration brilliantly conveys this message with originality, humor and visual impact. The end result is memorable and positive. However, slight adjustments could be made to the text sizes. Larger texts would improve legibility for the elderly and distance reading for all."

50% Matters! by Jonathan Schute from The United States of America was selected by Jacques Lange to receive $1,000.

"I selected this poster as my personal favorite because it communicates the issue at hand in a powerful and tightly-organized manner. It conveys a strong and clear message. It further respects all cultural values and is inclusive of all audiences. Other entries might have been more creative and original, yet I felt this poster fits the brief best. Additionally, the crafting of the design and attention to typography is seamless."


My mother tongue is one of the many minority languages that are constantly under threat because of small population numbers, its young age and its socio-political connotations. Afrikaans is only 300-odd years old and it is an official language in only one country but is kept alive and vibrant by many people in neighboring countries and by a small, yet dynamic expatriate community who base their core identity on it. In addition, my home country has 11 official languages, all of which one (English) are under threat, and many more unofficial languages and dialects that are on the verge of extinction or are technically extinct. Some of these are truly ancient such as the Khoi, Nama and San languages which are regarded as being extinct because the population numbers are no longer unsustainable. Therefore I understand and care a lot for the importance of topic at hand. I have also traveled to more than 30 countries around the world and developed a sensitivity for the importance of languages and dialects as a driving force for social and cultural diversity.

The ‘LANGUAGES MATTER!’ poster competition was a particularly difficult competition to adjudicate because it addresses an important, sensitive and often emotionally-charged topic. To guide my adjudication process, I developed a personal matrix of criteria that guided my decision-making: originality and creativity of the visual expression; strength and clarity of the message; cultural inclusion and sensitivities; applicability to a global audience; and the quality of execution.

Each of these had its own set of sub-criteria and challenges which resulted in me making more rational than emotion focused decisions during the final selection process. My biggest challenge was to balance my preferred choices of creativity and relevance. Relevance ended up being my primary focus. There were many creative ideas to choose from, yet, for me the entries that cut the grade were those that had strong messages and were sensitive to cultural sensibilities.


The Future Man by Agnaldo Silva do Nascimento from Brazil received the most votes and wins our Most Popular category with a prize of $500.


The beating heart of our life by Andreas Sandre from The United States of America
"Language is essential to the dynamism of societies. The heart is, in many cultures, the symbol of love. However, this is not a universal symbol."

Speech Bubbles by Frank Li of Australia
"The simplicity, beauty, and hand-crafted feel of this image - a girl being lifted by speech bubbles, makes the point while also conveying a sense of hope."

Language is identity by Renata Nogueira of Brazil
"Every language is unique and distinct from all others, which is the message of this cleverly designed image."

Global language roots by The Dime: Liane Fredericks, Timothy Nichols & Jennifer Nichols from Sweden
"When we forget our origins, we remain apprehensive at our future," says a Bambara proverb. The languages represent our roots. The symbolism dominates in this poster: a basic design with a strong message (language is the root of the future, but must be supported and watered).

Lettermix by David Mühlfeld from The Netherlands
"The message is simple, direct and visual. This poster expresses unequivocally the idea of linguistic diversity."

Language Family Tree by Solvita Marriott of The United States of America
"A typical family tree grows down from many ancestors towards an individual - the language family tree grows up from a few roots into all of the languages of the world. A living, vibrant tree that itself supports life & growth is a beautiful representation of mother languages."

Nearly extinct languages infographic by Clara Meliande of Brazil
"Though it doesn't convey the message at first glance, once you take the time to read the text, the next thing that strikes you is how few people speak many of these languages - in all these cases, fewer than 100."

Languages matter by Natalia Delgado from Mexico
"This pleasure is enhanced by the beauty of the image. The pleasure of the mouth (food) where our tongue tastes the alphabet’s letters - or ideograms - makes us like the language we learned at the age where we were eating the alphabet soup..."

Cultural Fingerprint by Gary Schmitt of The United States of America
"Technology has an awesome power to connect us, but it also has a great power to separate us from our past and move us towards an ever more homogeneous future. This is one of the few entries that truly acknowledges that."

Colourful Languages by Tjasa Nastran of Ireland
"The speech balloons are pleasing to the eye by themselves, but once you learn that the colors & sizes of the balloons represent language families, you notice how small some of the balloons are."

About Competitions

The DESIGN 21 series challenges designers of all disciplines to find solutions to social and global issues. It’s guided by UNESCO’s premise that education, science, technology, culture and communication are tools to spread knowledge and information, build awareness and foster dialogue.

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